To say incoming Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) managing director Michael Bartsch is taking the reins at a perilous time for the company would be something of an understatement.
But the Australian national, who has worked in the US for the past 12 years and led the Porsche Cars and Infiniti regions there, has made his case that the key to navigating the ‘dieselgate’ furore is to keep calm, get the full story, and press on.
Read all about the ‘dieselgate’ emissions cheating scandal — Volkswagen’s systematic, international fudging of diesel vehicle emissions — and the subsequent financial fallout and recalls of affected diesel engines, here.
Speaking with us this week days ahead of officially taking charge at VGA, Bartsch was adamant that whatever had gone awry internally to let millions of cars cheat tests, was not entirely representative of the VW he knows.
“You’ve got to work out what happened. And I can tell you from the 20 years I spent with Porsche and years in the Volkswagen Group, and the reason I came across, is because the integrity of the company and its social contract with employees and people and customers in Germany, is so strong that you have to pragmatically sit back and say ‘something has gone wrong somewhere, and things go wrong in the best of families,” he contended.
“It’s not that things go wrong, it’s how you handle it. We’ve got to sit back and let it come out to see what happened.”
Above: Bartsch most recently led the American market division of Nissan luxury brand Infiniti.
Bartsch went to great lengths to discuss his passion for, and belief in, the brand, which you might argue goes well beyond simply ‘caring for your employer’. The right approach, in his eyes, it seems, is to stay faithful to the brand.
“Let me make something really clear: I’m fourth-gen cars. In my life there’s only been two brands that I ever would consider owning and a third I adopted. One is Porsche and another is Volkswagen. One of the things that is absolutely critical to be successful is you have to have passion and absolute faith in who you work for.”
Bartsch said his mother was even driven to hospital in labour with him, in a Volkswagen.
“I have to work for an organisation and brand I can sense, and I can tell you I have absolutely no doubt that this will be resolved. I had a great uncle work on the production line in Wolfsburg, visited in ’69, have lost count of the Volkswagens I’ve owned (current a 1967 Karmann Ghia cabriolet).
“It’s like asking a diehard [Sydney] Swans (the AFL team that Volkswagen sponsors, by the way) give up because they lose a couple of games. No way. It doesn’t worry me. It worries me that we have some reputation issues, but if anything I think it’s a motivator to get it right.
“Something has gone wrong, it has to be fixed.”
“[New global CEO Matthias] Muller and [ousted chief Martin] Winterkorn have been clear, nobody’s going to shy away from it, they’ve got to be left to see what the hell happened and then we put the right steps in place.
“If they’re right and sincere then I have no qualms that based on the equity of the brand, the generations of ownership, and I still say unequivocally, ignoring the emissions issues, if you’re pragmatic about how a Volkswagen is built, the quality and integrity, show me a car at the price point in these segments that’s better, and I’ll argue it’s hard to find one.”
As we know, Bartsch is taking over as VGA managing director from Canadian John White, who announced his intention to retire well before the diesel story broke, and will do so within weeks. White’s departure is unrelated to dieselgate.
Tell us, what do you think of Michael Bartsch’s position? Let us know below.